Taken, Not Swept
While Reformed theology
denies there will be a
the Lord encourages us to
be prepared for it
Reformed theologians love to mock dispensationism, especially its theology of the end-times. And they seem to hold a special contempt for its idea that there will be a pre-tribulation rapture of the saints.
Years ago I was listening to one of their radio programs, where two Reformed Bible teachers were discussing the Lord’s word to His disciples in Matthew 24:40-41, quoted here from the NKJV:
“Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.”
They were laughing at the dispensationalist view that, because it tells us “one will be taken and the other left,” this is a key passage on the rapture. To support their view they pointed out that, just before He made this statement, the Lord had spoken of those who were taken in the flood:
“For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.”
— Matthew 24:38-39
Their point was, how could the Lord mean something positive when He speaks of those taken from the field or the mill, when in the same passage He speaks of those taken by the flood, who were of course destroyed?
In fact, unless they were simply being dishonest, to make such an argument they must not have known that this passage actually uses two very different Greek words for “taken.” (In fairness to them, however, this could have to do with the poor quality of modern English translations of the New Testament, most of which fail to properly distinguish between these two words in this passage.)
First, consider the “taking” from the field and the mill. The Greek word used in both of these cases is paralambanō, which simply means to “take with.” Whether that taking is positive or negative depends upon the context; the Lord “took” Peter and James and John with Him when He was transformed on the mountain (Matt. 17:1), but the soldiers also “took” Jesus with them to crucify Him after Pilate delivered Him up to them (Matt. 27:27).
Next is the word for those who were “taken” away in the flood, which is airō. Again, whether it is positive or negative depends upon the context. According to Strong’s it is a “primary root” which means “to lift up; by implication, to take up or away.” Thayer’s says that it includes the meaning of “to take from among the living, either by a natural death…or by violence.”
In the context of the flood, of course, this word is quite negative. The ESV (which I’m not a big fan of overall) gives its proper sense here when, unlike almost any other version, it translates the phrase not as “took them all away” but as “swept them all away”:
For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
— Matthew 24:38-39
With a proper understanding of the difference between these two words we can now see what the Lord is really saying in this passage:
To be “swept away,” just as all were in the flood, refers to how all those who “dwell on the earth” at the end of this age will suffer destruction in the end-times (cf. Rev. 8:13). In contrast, the “taking” of a few, whether in the field or at the mill, speaks of how the Lord will remove some from the earth to be with Himself just prior to that terrible time.
In brief, despite what Reformed theology might attempt to tell us, the Lord is indeed speaking here of the pre-tribulation rapture, and encouraging us to be prepared for it.
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— 12 January 2023 —